14 November 2011

Post 447: The Complete Maus

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman. ISBN 9780679406419.

I wasn't planning to throw this during this set of books, but the library notified me that my hold for The Help came in and so I couldn't read the next book in the lineup fast enough to post it, and I don't want to be put in the back of the 200+ person line. But you probably don't care, so moving on.

From some reviews* I've read of this book, some people feel that the method of story telling is a bit too blunt and is therefore insensitive in relaying the horror of the Holocaust. However, given that this is told mostly from the viewpoint of Art Spiegelman, I felt this tone was appropriate, and it was much easier to relate to his perspective than to that of a survivor. Stories from survivors are important, but Maus is also important because eventually there will be generations who won't even have known someone who survived the Holocaust and/or WWII. As someone coming from that background, this story made more sense to me on a personal level than some of the direct stories I've read. A lot of that comes from the fact that Spiegelman stops his father during the narrative and asks him the questions that I would want to ask a survivor, but would never be able to unless I already had a relationship with one.

Additionally, this offers a candid look at how the Holocaust has affected more than one generation, as well as the lifetime repercussions. Many survivor tales end with rescue or death and a tiny bit of epilogue: "And then things were better." But Spiegelman's work shows that the suffering didn't really end with the Nazi regime. Vladek (Art's father) continued to suffer from mental and physical health issues stemming from his malnourishment, emotional stress, and physical abuse while in the camp. This behavior has an obvious negative impact on Art, his wife, and Vladek's current wife Mala, while Anya (Art's mother) committed suicide from dealing with her own Holocaust experiences.

That these experiences are relayed in a back and forth interview style does not make Vladek's story any less powerful, but merely changes it and adds the impact it has had on his relationship with his son. The cartoon style of drawing, while seemingly childish and trivializing in its animal depictions, actually captures the inhumanity of the experience and in some ways makes it easier to process the information relayed. Yet, Spiegelman does not allow the animal depictions to stand alone. He reveals that this is a coping method by showing later story arcs with various masks covering both animal and human faces as an indication that while the story may seem simplified through this method of telling, there are layers hidden beneath that should be taken into account.

Matt Guion of moderate YouTube fame has reviewed this story in two parts. I will embed below the LibsNote, or you can click here and here. His review of Part II is particularly interesting.
LibsNote: Library Copy.
*I'm sorry I can't link, but I can't seem to find them or remember who wrote them.

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